The Music Blog: August and Everything After

I think the worst job I ever had as a social worker was that of an intake coordinator. Some people call these admissions specialists or other fancy names. The job requires you to have a license so essentially your professional ass is on the line. You might wonder exactly what an intake coordinator does at a psychiatric hospital. Well the hours usually suck because you want to be there when most of the bad calls and emergency visits happen. You take about 70% or more of the intake calls that come in, some of these are people honestly looking for help. Your mission is to make sure that as many of these people get into your hospital for an assessment as possible, Oh and you are going to do about 85% of those assessments including having other staff make appointments for you. So you think well that’s your job. Yes every sad horrible story there is, every bullshit story, every attempt to avoid something else, every no show, every manic going 1800 miles an hour you are going to see every last one of them. Crisis calls yep those too which means that when someone has to go to an emergency room at 2 am to assess someone it’s usually you. On the flip side of this every admission that utilization review doesn’t like you get blamed for. If the hospital is empty it’s your fault. And back to those crisis calls, you get people who tell you they have a loaded shotgun in their hands and they intend to put it in their mouth and pull the trigger. They won’t give you a name or an address or a phone number. The first few times this happens you panic a bit and you allow them to keep you on the line for a long time. My first one lasted almost two hours. Eventually you learn that it’s some lonely lost soul who just wants someone to talk to, but that first time, maybe even the first half dozen times you take that home with you, you toss and turn and you look in the paper for a story about some poor soul who blew their head off with a shotgun. You are responsible for all of that. After a while you learn if you cannot get something from them in fifteen minutes or so you aren’t going to and you start cutting the calls off nicely as you can. You still worry though. What if you were wrong? There is joy too though if you open your mind just a bit.

She looked nervous when she came in and I did my best to make her feel at ease. She was blunt and honest and said that she was a Schizophrenic. She said she needed to come in and get on some medication so that she could get back to work. It was impressive that she worked. She had no support system. She was in her late 20’s had been diagnosed for a little over 10 years. She had stopped taking medication long before and knew when to come in and get back on medication. She said when the voices turn ugly when the faces in the wall turn mean it was time. She said that being on the medication, kept her from working. Her plan was to get stable and get back to work. She didn’t want to be in the system. I thought her one of the most resilient people ever.

Switch to another patient altogether, younger still at home with her parents, early 20’s. She was incredibly artistic and would hardly ever speak to anyone. Medications didn’t seem to last long and she needed a lot of adjustments. When she was stable she painted and made pottery. She was so pretty but the medications took her to another place, the medications were as bad as the disease. She sold her art on a corner in her hometown.

He was so far gone that it was difficult to get any reaction from him at all. Schizophrenics have so many problems because so much information is coming in, essentially everything and the medications shut off the flow. The old school medications with so many horrific side effects shut everything off and make you into little more than a zombie. Todd’s life consisted of smoking and he would show up in our ER where the ER staff would treat him like he was a diseased maniac. I would go down and get him and call his case manager. He had no family. He wanted me to get cigarettes for him one day, cheap cigarettes that he chain smoked I did and told him the story of the king of cigarette smoking while he stared off into space. When I was done I started to walk away and he looked at me and chuckled and said good story. It was a small victory.

I love working with schizophrenics. I have never once been afraid of one. I get a little upset when there is a mass shooting and the mentally ill are blamed. Those are my people.

The first schizophrenic I met was at a place called Opportunity House, a Tarrant County facility that I was delivering snacks to from the food bank where I had done a pick up. As these guys were unloading the van one of them turned to me and said, “I don’t know whether to keep doing this or go and masturbate.” I nodded and said “Really good question let’s finish this and then you can do whatever you want.” The staff wanted me to work there. I wish I had.

Somewhere in all my blogs there is one entitled Gianna. I will not tell her story again but you are of course welcome to go back and read her story. There isn’t a day that goes by that I do not think about her and wonder how she is. I hope she is thriving. I hope she is well.

Yea I love schizophrenics.

In September of 1993 Counting Crows released their debut album August and Everything After. It was an instant hit based on the song Mr. Jones. It’s a great song now my least favorite because radio overplay just killed all of the joy in that song. I wrote recently that there are albums that are connected deeply to my soul and August is one of those albums. There are few albums that I love more, that bring forth a greater range of emotions that mean as much to me. I can’t say this about many albums but there isn’t a bad song on the album and if you don’t have it or have never heard it in its entirety you should.

It’s hard to really point out why the album touches me so. Sure there is one song that brings everything I have written into perspective but for an album to be great there just has to be more than one song. There is of course. There are about 5 of those favorite songs on this album. Perfect Blue Buildings is one, Anna Begins is two. That alone would make the album special because those two songs are really that good. A lot of the reasons why the album is so good is Adam Duritz. Hey any white man with dreadlocks is alright with me. You should know that. Rain King is three. Sullivan Street is four. Raining in Baltimore is five. When an album plays that has that many great songs, you just sit listen and sing along and pretty soon you can hear your soul chirping away content and happy. It’s a wonderful album.

You can see I have left a hole right. I mean this started out as some story about loving Schizophrenics. It’s really one giant lovefest, love of Schizophrenics and love of an album and where the hell is there a connection. If you worked in the mental health industry around the time this album came out and didn’t foolishly waste your time listening to bad music aka country music then you might remember the opening song on August is called Round Here. The song was released as a single and it probably gets more airplay on Sirius than Mr. Jones these days. Most of us who worked in the mental heath industry and we all seemed to flock together believed this song to be about a mentally ill girl and we spent some time trying to diagnose her. Was she Bipolar, Schizophrenic, Schizoaffective. Truthfully I have never known a Schizophrenic to take their own life which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. I just view Schizophrenia a little differently than most. Now the reason we thought the song was about mental illness was the girl.

Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand

She said she’d like to

Meet a boy who looks like Elvis

She walks along the edge of where the ocean meets

The land just like she’s

Walking on a wire in the circus

She parks her car outside my house

And takes her clothes off, says she’s

Close to understanding Jesus

She knows she’s more than just a little misunderstood

She has trouble acting

Normal when she’s nervous

Later this girl talks about jumping from a building, she’s tired of life, she must be tired of something round here. It is a sad song. Of course we all got it wrong. It isn’t about the girl at all. It’s about the guy.

According to Adam Duritz who should know since he wrote the song it’s about a person leaving people behind and the more he leaves people behind the more he leaves himself. Now that resonates with me too.

It’s funny about song lyrics, poems, novels or just about anything creative, anything that is art. No matter what the artist intends to convey there is someone or many someones who will get a different meaning from it. When we view art or hear a song or read a book we are always doing so from where we are at that moment, that place in time. If you have ever been through a really bad break up, had your heart broken then you know that the universe also knows and so every song you hear or every book you read is about heartbreak. You could go and see a Friday the 13th movie and cry though the entire thing and have your buddy ask, dude what the hell was that? Your response will be something similar to it was just so sad, she really loved him I think and he still killed her with that chainsaw. Come on you know it’s true. If you think that every lyric of every song is going to be about you, then it will be and you will tell the world that song has so much meaning for you. It’s not my fault that you can’t see the stares people are giving you or that they are laughing at you because the song is about a night someone got drunk, a dog, a water buffalo and a transvestite named Hortense. It happens. It is why I rarely put much stock in lyrics because most of the time we get them wrong.

I will tell you though. Whether it’s on the radio, or on a compilation I have, or the album itself when I hear the song there are certain things I think about.

I think about the king of cigarette smoking.

I think about Todd’s laugh and a smile.

I think about a girl selling her art by the side of the road.

I think about a girl who knew when to come to the hospital because the voices turned mean and the faces on the wall a little too vicious.

I think of the freest spirit I have ever known and her yellow stockings flying through the water. I hope that Gianna is ok, I hope the world has not been too cruel for her. I hope.

Mike out

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